|Tips for Aspiring Women Leaders|
As aspiring women leaders move from clarifying their larger driving passion to succeeding at a specific job, it is important that they recognize both the written, and especially unwritten, rules that determine how quickly they advance in their career. While a woman's company may dictate more specific rules of the workplace, executives cited eight important pieces of acumen they wished they had known sooner in their careers, regardless of industry:
1. Identify and master critical skills first. It can take people at least six months to fully understand all the expectations of their new job and about a year to properly execute them. If a woman can focus on and perfect the core attributes of her job early on, it will build her credibility faster in the organization.
She must ensure that she is proficient in her primary duties before distracting herself with things such as networking or attending conferences.
2. Think about the end goal. As a woman moves higher up in her organization, she will find that being a technical expert is far less important than her ability to motivate and inspire people. One CFO advised that as a woman advances, "finding [her] voice as a leader is perhaps more important than getting proficient in [her] technical role."
The leaders interviewed had enough technical skill to merit their promotion, but became leaders primarily due to skills such as effectively managing a team or excellent communication. They filled their gaps in technical knowledge by surrounding themselves with others whose strengths were different than their own.
Young women should start asking themselves how they can leverage other skills besides technical knowledge to add value in their company. Envisioning what they would like to be remembered for can serve as a personal mission statement that can help track progress toward.
Whether it consists of specific improvements they made, quality relationships they built, or their ability to handle high pressure with poise, they need to think beyond technical expertise.
3. Develop a professional presence. How a woman presents herself in the workplace is critical if she is an aspiring leader. A professional presence encompasses a number of characteristics: attentive eye contact, professional attire, and a confident posture and handshake.
Features like these will help reinforce a woman's presence which is ultimately about establishing the fact that she is credible, respected, and has the ability to inspire "followership" in those she works with.
4. Develop a strategic viewpoint. Most of the leaders interviewed found that their promotions to leadership were a result of their ability not to get lost in the details of their job or department, but their capacity to assess their organization from a bird's eye viewpoint. Young women should demonstrate an awareness of how their organization works as a whole and how their particular job or department influences the big picture.
They can practice this through careful observation and by asking themselves questions on the job. For instance, how will a particular proposal affect the company as a whole? How will a decision impact the organization collectively, not just her department?
5. Stay positive. While this sounds simple, it is often forgotten how powerful a positive attitude can be when advancing within a company. A large amount of business is handled in social venues and many times business decisions are based on the likeability of the person one is interacting with.
Staying positive also keeps the focus on finding solutions to problems as opposed to constantly complaining about them. If a woman delivers strong results on the job coupled with a positive attitude, it will be hard for her to go unnoticed.
6. Be helpful, but strategically helpful. Succeeding will always require teamwork, and it is important for a young woman to demonstrate that she is team-oriented. It strengthens her alliances at work, and potentially exposes her to new skills and people.
However, too often women only demonstrate their helpfulness in "support-type tasks," or work that they have been socialized to do. For instance, women are far more likely than men to volunteer to take on administrative roles, such as taking notes at a meeting, when it is not part of their job description.
Historically women have been the ones to get the coffee, be the secretary, or generally play a supporting role. While it is important that young women lend a hand where needed, they should give pause to consistently taking these roles.
7. Take ownership of successes. Another distinct difference between men and women is the likelihood that they will claim credit for what they have achieved. While men regularly assume credit for successful initiatives, women are more likely to assume that people will notice their hard work and give them the credit they are due.
Women are more likely to dilute their contributions by stating that "we" achieved something instead of "I" achieved it. Young women should practice using a clearer, fact-based approach.
For instance, "Last year when I suggested we update our plan, I never thought it would lead us to such a major overhaul." The women interviewed all gave credit to people in their lives for giving them the support they needed to attain their executive role, but each took ownership of the improvements that she had personally made.
They added that consistent communication is crucial to taking credit. Using meetings as venues for recognizing accomplishments and follow-up emails to her boss are good ways for a woman to keep her ideas and contributions associated with her and not claimed by someone else.
8. Know one's strengths and weaknesses. Leaders distinguish themselves from managers as people who are open to and ask for both upward and downward feedback. Aspiring leaders need to demonstrate that they can take constructive criticism and use the strengths of others to balance their weaknesses.
Annual performance reviews are excellent times for women to reflect on how they have created value for their organization and where they could improve. They should come prepared to highlight specifically how they have created value but also be open to their boss' suggestions for improvement.
It is also important that they get in the habit of requesting informal feedback, always asking for input on both how they excelled and how they could improve.
This article is based on the book "The Next Generation of Women Leaders." The book summary is available online at Business Book Summaries.
Oprah Winfrey is without a doubt the most successful female in the USA and possibly in the world right now. But what can we learn from her?
- Persistence. Oprah grew up extremely poor in rural Mississippi. She was born into absolutely nothing. She was actually raised on welfare. As of September 2009, her net worth is more than $2.3 billion US dollars. She did not let anybody tell her that she could not do what she wanted to do. She kept trying and took advantage of any opportunities afforded her.
- Finding a voice. Through her talk show mainly, Oprah has managed to build a reputation as a caring person who focuses on self-improvement and the truth. Her “brand” is so powerful that she’s influenced Texas beef sales and the US presidency in 2008.
- Continue to battle against personal demons. Oprah’s public battle with weight has shown that although she does at time gain weight, she continues to struggle to keep her weight down. What does this say to everybody else? That even the most successful female in the USA is not perfect. She is human like the rest of us. If she can be so successful and still have personal tribulations then there’s hope for the rest of us. Don’t let personal issues keep you from being successful.
- Once you have a franchise going, keep going. Oprah might have started with a talk show but she did not stop there. Two magazines and a website are other avenues she has to influence people. Her charity, Oprah’s Angel Network, has earned over 51 million US dollars to support charities and non-profit organizations helping the underprivileged. Wonder when she is going to put out a music album?
- Keep good people around. One person could not do everything that Oprah has managed to do over the years. Keep good people around who support you and do what you tell them to do how you want it done. Delegate what you can. Help build up those that work with and for you. Do not keep people around who sabotage your goals.
- Do Good Works. Sure, it might be easier to be generous when you are that rich but admittedly, other rich people exist who don’t try to make a difference with their money. Certainly, not everybody can fund a new public school for 151 schoolchildren in Africa. We can all, however, take our cue from her generosity and try to give or do as much as we can in our lives, even something as simple as using a charity credit card, can give money everytime to the needy without you even realising!
Image via Wikipedia
By Kathy Caprino
The research findings are clear: Companies with the highest representation of women on their top management teams perform better financially than companies with the lowest women’s representation (see Catalyst and Deloitte). Irrefutable evidence abounds supporting the need for U.S. corporations to achieve a critical mass of women in senior leadership to succeed and thrive in today’s economy.
Yet we remain stalled in our efforts to advance women to senior leadership. In truth, we’ve flatlined. Despite a plethora of new training and leadership initiatives, in 2010, women held only 14.4% of executive officer positions, up from 13.5% in 2009, and only 7.6% of the top earning positions compared with 6.3% in 2009. Other countries are soaring far ahead of us in this regard.
From my career and leadership coaching work with hundreds of corporate women, and my yearlong research on the 12 “hidden” crises professional women face, I’ve directly witnessed what holds women back from attaining the highest levels of leadership.
What is this barrier? A key obstacle is a pervasive corporate culture that by its very nature expels a vast number of women. This culture is shaped by what I and others have called the “white male competitive career model,” and it remains intractable. The model is comprised of four key expectations of a “successful professional” that do not fit hundreds of thousands of women. Until we change the existing corporate culture, we will fail at bringing about female leadership growth.
The four assumptions of the white male competitive career model are:
1) A bias for linear or continuous employment histories (in other words, a rejection of “off-ramping” and “on-ramping” that women often need to do to address child and elder care priorities);
2) An over-emphasis on “full-time”, “face-time” and hierarchical structure;
3) An expectation that “ambitious” professionals will show the most intensive career commitment in their 30s (when many women are having babies); and
4) A guiding principle that money and power are primary motivators to contribution and performance.
Unless we shift these cultural assumptions, women’s leadership growth will remain a pipe dream. And America’s businesses will suffer.
Why is More Female Leadership Essential?
It’s a fact – organizations need a diversity of leadership perspectives and approaches in order to innovate and compete today. In addition, female leaders tend to display traits that are significantly different from male leaders, and these characteristics create new pathways for success and growth. From my own and others’ research, four key female leadership traits have emerged:
1) Stronger interpersonal and empathic relating skills – Women leaders exhibit a higher degree of interpersonal skills, empathy, flexibility and sociability, enabling them to gauge situations accurately and collect and integrate information from all angles. This ability to take in all sides of a situation enhances their persuasiveness, and allows them to infuse energy and power into a shared vision of the future and engenders commitment and support from others in creating that vision. Their empathy helps them connect deeply with people, and foster loyalty, support and collaboration from those they lead.
2) Resilience in applying lessons and learning from adversity – Women leaders show a higher degree of resilience and assertiveness than their male counterparts. This coupled with their flexibility and interpersonal connection helps them shake off negativity and setbacks, learn what they need to from the experience, and use the setbacks to fuel their drive to succeed and overcome challenges.
3) Honoring inclusion over hierarchy – The female leader tends to utilize a more inclusive, team-building style of problem solving and decision making. Women leaders demonstrate stronger listening skills, which including learning from listening, reflecting back, then implementing a plan that incorporates the best thinking of all involved. She tends to operate under the belief that inclusion is preferred over exclusion, and centrality is preferred over hierarchy. She doesn’t want to sit alone at the top. Instead, she wants to be in the center of a large and effective web of inclusion (for more, see Sally Helgesen’s The Web of Inclusion and The Female Advantage)
4) Risk taking and resisting following the “rules” – Female leaders show a higher tendency to resist both established procedures and over- cautiousness. They display a greater sense of urgency, risk -taking and abstract reasoning, and focus more on getting things done, with less of a tendency to hesitate, focus on small details, or follow external structure.
With a more open, consensus -building, and collegial approach to leading, women leaders create environments where information is shared more freely, collaboration and teamwork are honored, and flexibility along with risk-taking create new opportunities for success.
Corporate America desperately needs more than 15% of its senior leadership to be women. The question remains: Are American employers ready to embrace what needs to be done, following the lead of other countries that have made greater headway? The answer must be yes, and the time is now.
Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a nationally-recognized women’s career and leadership coach, speaker and author of Breakdown, Breakthrough. Founder/President of Ellia Communications – a career coaching and marketing consulting firm for professional women, Kathy is a sought-after writer and speaker on women’s career trends, and has appeared in over 100 leading magazines and newspapers and on national TV. Visit www.elliacommunications.com for more info.